Enabling Enterprise Applications on Mobile Devices

VoicenData Bureau
New Update

With ubiquitous availability of mobile packet data services (2.5G/GPRS/EDGE) and affordability of smartphones increasing (according to a recent study, about 42% of the US subscribers use smartphones today), enterprise employees are now driving IT departments to adopt their personal smartphones into the enterprise fold. There has been a steep rise (a recent Forrester report mentions a 30% growth in the US in such numbers from 2008 to 2009) in this trend in the last couple of years.


CIOs are encouraging this trend because of the cost savings (device cost being passed onto employees) as well as tax benefits (in certain countries like the US, company-provided smartphones fall into the taxable perquisites category and are liable to taxation).

The flip-side of this advantage is that this trend poses a huge risk to the enterprises due to device management and security issues that need to be adequately addressed. Further, managing the telecom expenses becomes the need of the hour as these personal smartphones are used for both personal as well as official purposes. Some enterprises are leveraging the Wi-Fi access of smartphones to provide a fixed-mobile converged (FMC) solution to reduce telecom expenses. However, Wi-Fi enabled smartphones are still to make a big impact in the market.


A recent Forrester study reports that 42% of enterprises today have already enabled mobile access to commonly used enterprise applications such as email, address books, and calendar. In the Indian context, a recent Frost & Sullivan report indicates that the enterprise mobility market has grown 30-40% in 3 years and is currently pegged at around `350 crore. This growth is fueled partly due to smartphones becoming more powerful (in processing power and memory capacity) and having a better form-factor (larger screens, QWERTY keyboards).

Recently, there has been a surge in demand for access to enterprise portals and other applications such as CRM and ERP. The value of mobile CRM can be quite significant, given that the mobile workforce can now have access to accurate information at the right time and also replace many of the manual processes with automated mobile workflows.

Currently, most enterprise deployments of CRM or ERP applications are not ready for immediate mobile enablement. Providing a web interface alone may not be sufficient for mobile access, given that these applications have been designed primarily for access from a PC inside the enterprise network-expecting a large screen, high bandwidth for data exchange and reasonably low latency to ensure a rich user experience.


Mobile-enabling these applications is a non-trivial task. One needs to identify the data that can/should be exposed, assess the security risks, support device authentication and even minimize message exchanges (protocols) to reduce the airtime charges.

There are 2 architectural approaches of enabling mobility for the above enterprise applications:

Operator Agnostic Approach: In this approach, the operator plays the sole role of a conduit/channel for the enterprise data to reach mobile users. There is an obvious benefit that such solutions work on various handsets and can have different operators. Further, enterprises can roll out these applications without prolonged discussions and arrangements (that can get inordinately delayed) with a mobile operator.


However, the key disadvantage is the heavy dependency on the operators' network and lack of control over the quality of the service (QoS) and end user experience. Poor coverage, higher than usual latency and high packet data costs can severely restrict the adoption and success of the mobile-enablement of such enterprise applications.

Operator Aware Approach: In this solution, a server side entity (appliance, gateway, etc) is installed/deployed in the operator's network to facilitate mobility of the enterprise application. This entity customizes the message exchange between a mobile application installed on end users' smartphones and the enterprise CRM/ERP server, using as many features of the server 'out-of-the-box'. Further, data and session/workflow state can be stored/cached at the entity to provide low latencies and quick response time which result in a more controlled and enriching end user experience. A good example of such an approach is the arrangement between RIM and operators for the 'Blackberry Push Email' service. Similar arrangement between AT&T and Apple spurred the adoption of iPhone when it first hit the consumer market.

This operator entity also provides a context-awareness about the application usage. For example, it can leverage the users' location, users' presence (such as available, busy, do not disturb) and network parameters (bandwidth, coverage, signal strength) to adapt applications for enhancing the end-user experience. The operators can also leverage their networks to offer a 'managed service' over a cloud infrastructure and efficiently monetize their services by offering differentiated services to different subscribers.



Enterprise mobility cannot happen in isolation by the developer of an enterprise application. Our view is that these developers must work closely with device manufacturers, operators, cloud providers and other such ecosystem players to ensure the success of mobile-enabling these applications. Companies such as Persistent Systems are working with all these key players in this ecosystem to define and create a good solution that results in a wide adoption of these applications by enterprises and their smartphone-toting mobile workforce.

Dr R Venkateswaran

The author is head, telecom business unit, Persistent Systems